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When Our Stories Become Weapons

I am a storyteller.

 

I’m not great with small talk, nor am I all that funny. I certainly don’t have all the answers.

 

But I tell stories anyway.

 

I’d rather tell my story than argue. I don’t see much point in a debate. I say something, you pick out what you don’t like, and then I get mad that you aren’t really listening. What a waste of time. Arguing reveals our pride. We think we possess superior logic compared to others and we’re merely enlightening the ignorant. But debates only make people defensive, closing people off. Unless people feel safe and heard, they won’t have an open heart. Without a posture of openness, people remain shut off from new ideas.

 

So I’d rather just share my story than fight over sexual ethics.

 

But in this discussion of sexual orientation, I’m missing something if I focus solely on my own story. You’d be missing something too if you only listened to my story. Our individual tales need to interact like iron sharpening iron. We need to be challenged, to feel a little uncomfortable from time to time. We don’t have all the facts, and we haven’t stopped growing. Storytelling requires more than one perspective.

 

Rachel Held Evans wrote an important response a year ago to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story.” I resonated with Rachel’s application of Adichie’s talk to the discussion of homosexuality. Rachel primarily focused on one statement:

 

“The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”

 

Rachel added,

 

“It occurred to me recently that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people are often subjected to this single-story treatment, both from myself and from other people.”

 

I’ve been around enough Christians to know the truth of Rachel’s observation. It feels like someone is always getting thrown under the bus in church. We develop assumptions in a vacuum, not knowing anything about the people we attempt to characterize. And often when people meet a sexual minority, they unfairly make this individual a representative of an incredibly diverse group of people. We allow certain stories to filter all other ones, to the point that stories cease to be stories.

 

Stories become weapons.

 

People so often hijack our moments of vulnerability to shame those who would be audacious enough to disagree. We all do it, conservatives and liberals. The debate around homosexuality is heated and we want real life examples to stoke the flame. Amid the fighting we don’t take many opportunities to walk in another person’s shoes. We don’t consider what another human has had to endure, or what flow of logic and conviction has led them to their current identity and position.

 

I appreciate Stephen Long for his honesty in how celibacy failed him. His attempts to honor his beliefs harmed him deeply—spiritually, psychologically, and physically.

 

Stephen wrote in response to Julie Rodgers’ “Surprised By Celibacy,”

 

I had trusted the life of celibacy to be similar to what Paul described: ‘We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.’ But this leads me to the question I often find myself asking of the church these days: what happens when we are afflicted and crushed? What happens when we are perplexed and driven to despair? Persecuted and forsaken? Struck down and destroyed? What happens when it doesn’t have a happy ending? What happens when it ends in drug abuse, or addiction, or a suicide, or an STD? What happens when people’s spirits are broken? How is that good? How does that purify and refine and bring glory to God?

 

Julie had written how celibacy had surprisingly sustained her faith, while Stephen wrote that it had nearly destroyed not only his faith, but his desire to live.

 

My story resonates more with Julie’s than Stephen’s. Embracing affirming theology only intensified my anxiety. I discovered peace in gradually submitting my life to a vocation of celibacy. So yes, there’s dissonance in our stories, but Stephen has been an encouraging friend as I’ve struggled to find my way as a blogger this year. His story matters to me as I tell my own as a celibate gay Christian.

 

In this heated debate, it’s not hard to find stories to back up our positions. We live in an age of social media where we constantly share blog posts and YouTube videos to reinforce the validity of our beliefs. We take a person’s story—a creative work of art—and transform it into an instrument of oppression that can induce shame in others.

 

See? This lady found a husband and had kids. It’s not impossible. You just need to have more faith in God. Just keep trying.

 

This guy left his wife and kids for another man. Mixed orientation marriage NEVER work. You can’t possibly be happy in one.

 

Look at this woman, she’s going through life without a spouse and still has a thriving relationship with Christ. If she can do it, so can you! You just need Jesus, man.

 

Hey, this guy nearly killed himself trying celibacy. Celibacy doesn’t work.

 

Adichie reminds us of an important point,

 

Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.

 

When we talk about sexual orientation and sexual ethics, we must remember that we’re talking about real people. People like me. Our biblical paradigms tend to cloud our assumptions. If a man in a gay relationship says he loves Jesus and his husband, many would question his faith. He can’t really love God like I love God. Christians may feel convinced it can’t really be love. Surely it can’t demonstrate the same fidelity and sacrifice as a heterosexual marriage. But then you open your heart to a gay couple committed to their marriage and their relationship with Christ and something changes. The interactions and moments of life shared together obliterate your preconceptions. Maybe your beliefs shift, maybe they don’t. But you see the complexity far more clearly.

 

I believe Christians can thrive in a pluralistic society. We need patience to listen with grace, humility, and compassion amid the messiness and misunderstandings. We must also develop a love for stories. We have our own path to tread in this life. We shouldn’t assume others are farther behind us when we don’t see eye-to-eye. God may have us on different roads. We don’t have to be gatekeepers. We can embrace the simple commandment of scripture: love God and love our neighbor. We can rest knowing our brothers and sisters are in far more secure hands than our own.

 

My story is not a weapon, it’s an invitation of hospitality.

 

So come in from the cold and sit by the fire. I want to hear your story.

 

/ / /

 

If you missed Adichie’s incredible talk last year, please watch it. There’s a reason it went viral.

 

Featured photo courtesy of flickr creative commons, user Bravo_Zulu_

  • You may very well not see your story as a weapon, but let me prophesy a little: the church will, others will, and will likely flag you up as a success story, like a recovering alcoholic. There’s even a job in it somewhere for many.

  • And just a question, you say that ‘Embracing affirming theology only intensified (your) anxiety;’ do you truly mean to say that the very prospect of not seeing yourself as sinful (or prone to sin in that particular area) makes you anxious? Are you that desperate to be condemned?